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Building Community

Rick Gates enables his Latino team members

By Eric Garcia

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Employees at Walgreens are called “team members.” As Rick Gates explains, that’s essential to understanding America’s premier pharmacy, founded in 1901. “It’s about making everyone’s voice matter,” he says.

A   27-year veteran at Walgreens, Rick joined the company after graduating from pharmacy school at the University of Iowa, and began by working in the stores themselves.  Now he’s Senior Vice President of Pharmacy and Healthcare. Based in Chicago, he’s responsible for “commercial development and sales across health plans, PBM, Pharm and Health system partners.” 

But Rick is also a proud Latino whose grandmother was born in northern Mexico. Growing up in Des Moines, he recalls his family always loved flour tortillas, and they would judge a restaurant by its refried beans. That heritage led him to become Executive Sponsor of Latino Professionals Network (LPN), the business resource group (BRG) for Latinos and others. 

There are twelve BRGs at Walgreens, including the African American Leadership Network and the Pride Alliance. These grassroots organizations help team members “learn, network and collaborate,” explains Rick, and connect Walgreens to the diverse communities it serves. 

LPN was formed in 2015, starting in the corporate office, and then branched out into regional chapters. Membership is not limited to Latinos and anyone can join. There is a board that meets monthly, and its six members are all volunteers. There are committees responsible for Communications, Activities, Strategic Plans, Mentorship and Community Events. Currently, the board chair is Jacquie Meza, Senior Manager, Global Compliance Operations and the vice chair is Maribel Orozco, Pharmacy Retail Operations Manager. According to Rick, LPN has become quite popular and membership grew 30% last year.

Rick was encouraged to become Executive Sponsor by his predecessor Alejandro Martinez Galindo upon his retirement. “When I went to the first board meeting and saw the passion of the members, I felt I was back with my family in Des Moines,” Rick recalls.

LPN is collaborative and employee driven, and Rick’s role as Executive Sponsor is to enable team members to succeed. Among other things, LPN plans informal cafecitos (get togethers) as well as larger community events during Hispanic Heritage Month, and submits annual strategic plans and operating budgets for approval by the Walgreens Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). As Executive Sponsor, Rick also reaches out to other BRGs to network and share best practices.

“Rick Gates has done a phenomenal job as the Executive Sponsor to LPN. In doing so, he has also shown up (and frankly shown out) as a mentor and sponsor to two dynamic Latina women (Jacquie Meza and Maribel Orozco). Mentors and sponsors are key to ensuring that women and those from historically underrepresented groups have the tools, resources and support to navigate the murky waters of corporate America and ultimately ascend in their careers. I’m proud to work with someone that acknowledges his privilege and uses it to help others shine,” says Stefanie Hicks, Head of Business Resource Group Development and DEI Strategic Partnerships.

Rick is proud of this mentorship, and explained that one of the functions of LPN is to “leverage new members, and help amplify their voices in the company,” which has 350,000+ employees. In this regard,  BRGs also create a bond between team members. “We want to make sure everyone is involved,” he said. “We want to build a sense of community.”

This sense of community is critical to Walgreens, which has diversity, equity and inclusion in its DNA. It’s a commitment that comes from the top, starting with CEO Roz Brewer. Rick notes that when top executives visit stores in the field, they talk to all the team members.

“Our stores are very diverse,” Rick says. “They’re very representative of the communities we serve.”

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